An Israeli grad student in Berlin doing her thesis on untranslatable words finds that returning home from abroad isn’t quite the comfort she imagined in Ester Amrami’s enjoyable but slight feature helming debut, “Anywhere Else.” As an Israeli in Berlin herself, Amrami knows whence she films, and playing with notions of translation and transplantation is a clever way of capturing the protagonist’s feeling of not belonging. However, far more could have been done with the concept, and the script only fitfully lives up to its promise. German play could see moderate biz, and Jewish-Israeli showcases will come calling.
Everything’s stressing out 33-year-old Noa (Neta Riskin): Her dissertation funding doesn’t come through, her adviser questions her scientific method, things are tense with her trombonist b.f., Joerg (Golo Euler), and Berlin’s constant gray is getting her down. Needing the consoling warmth of the primal nest, she flies home on a whim for a short vacation. Hers is a stereotypical bickering Israeli family: Mom Rachel (Hana Laslo, “Free Zone”) is an interfering “balabusta,” older sis Netta is a “farbissiner,” dad Yossi (Dovaleh Reiser) has just finished building a security shelter in the garden, and younger brother Dudi (Kosta Kaplan) isn’t too happy in the army.
The one person whose love feels unconditional is Yiddishe bubbe Henja (Hana Rieber), but then she gets sick and Noa plans her return to Berlin. Joerg, looking to patch things up, arrives unannounced on National Memorial Day, when the whole country is in an even more heightened emotional state than usual. No one’s too happy having Noa’s German b.f. visiting, especially when there’s nice Jewish doctor Yoav (Dedi Amrami) in the wings. With everything in crisis, Noa’s sense of belonging is thrown into a tailspin.
The idea of a dissertation on untranslatable words is inspired: Amrami includes Noa’s filmed interviews with native speakers discussing terms like the Portuguese “saudade” and the Arabic “toqborni.” At the start, each untranslatable word appears to have a connection to Noa’s mindset, but the parallels become more and more tenuous, and Amrami can’t sustain the idea in an insightful way. She also seems uncertain of her message: Are people as incapable of translocation as words? Or is displacement a byproduct of the modern age, which seems to be applicable to Henja, a multilingual Polish Holocaust survivor still most comfortable with Yiddish? Ambiguity, even contradiction, would be OK if presented in a more considered manner.
Riskin, holding her own against the larger-than-life (in a good way) Laslo, is unafraid to portray Noa as an often unpleasant figure whose moodiness reflects a rocky transition out of immaturity. Euler, however, is far too vanilla as Joerg, and there’s no chemistry between the two, in contrast with the prickly family dynamics. Johannes Praus’ exploratory camera shows an interest in closeups and effects of light, nicely balanced with shots that establish characters in connection with others. A youth award in Berlin, “Dialogue en perspective,” says as much about the earnestness of contempo Germany’s philo-Semitism as about the pic’s ability to engage in cross-cultural dialogue.